CONWAY -- Leaving the stage to the thundering applause of more than 600 Arkansas Boys State members, former President Bill Clinton momentarily stepped back from the edge of the curtain, a wide grin on his face, and held high above his head a plaque heralding his official induction into the Arkansas Boys State Hall of Fame.
The audience -- a sea of orange, blue and gray T-shirts signifying different county representatives -- burst into laughter and cheers, with cellphone cameras flashing.
"This comes after multiple years of trying to get him here," said Craig Depew, Arkansas Boys State spokesman. "We are very excited about it."
Clinton's appearance comes nearly 52 years after, as a teenager, he stood in the White House Rose Garden and shook hands with President John F. Kennedy. It was the summer before Kennedy was assassinated. A photo of that handshake, which featured Clinton and other high school students in the Boys Nation program, figured prominently in Clinton's 1992 successful White House campaign.
"I was never quite the same person after I went to Boys State and Boys National," Clinton said, retelling stories of voting for Kennedy's civil-rights bill in his role as a Boys National delegate.
Cooperating, despite differences, is the key to successful leadership, he told the crowd at the University of Central Arkansas campus.
"Hear each other out and find the best agreeable solution," Clinton said.
A case in point, he said, is the bipartisan support in the state Legislature to authorize the issuance of an $87.1 million bond to help Lockheed Martin obtain a federal defense contract. The company is seeking to build the military's joint light tactical vehicle to replace the Humvee.
If the bid is successful, the venture will mean about 600 new jobs in the state.
"I would have voted for it," Clinton said. "Every manufacturing job creates 2.5 other jobs."
Cultivating leadership skills and teaching cooperation are the cornerstones of the Boys State program, said Porter Gregory, a 17-year-old Little Rock Catholic High School upcoming senior, in an interview before the event. And Clinton, Gregory said, is the epitome of those characteristics.
"We may not have the same beliefs, but it is a huge honor to get to meet an elected president of the United States who is part of our brotherhood," Gregory said.
Griffin Rogers, 17, of McGehee High School, said seeing Clinton go from a Boys State delegate to a twice-elected U.S. president is inspiring.
"It's really, really awesome," Rogers said, then extended an arm toward the hundreds of his fellow delegates in the room. "We are the future Mike Huckabees, Mike Beebes and Bill Clintons. We will be the leaders one day."
Later Thursday evening, Clinton was in Little Rock, where he was honored by City Year Little Rock, the young-adult corps that assists central Arkansas students in high-need schools and helps them graduate.
At City Year's annual Red Jacket Ball, held at the Statehouse Convention Center, Clinton received the Seven Generations Award -- named after an Iroquois proverb -- for his commitment to public service. The proverb states, "In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."
During his approximately 10-minute speech, the former president touched on the importance of the local program, noting that 54 City Year volunteers this year were in six local schools helping more than 3,200 students through tutoring and mentoring, and the program's basic belief of "everybody counts, everybody deserves a chance, everyone has a role to play in helping others."
"This is not rocket science," Clinton said. "City Year is the largest program of its kind in the United States for a reason: It works. Developing people's human capacity works. Bringing people together with different experiences works."
Part of the national service organization AmeriCorps, City Year Little Rock was celebrating 10 years of serving central Arkansas students. Clinton was joined onstage by past honorees of the local program, including former Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey and retired Gen. Wesley Clark.
The past honorees received 10th anniversary City Year jackets, but Clinton received a special jacket as well: a miniature, signature-red colored City Year jacket for his 8-month-old granddaughter, Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky.
"This will get good use, immediately," he said, before departing the stage to applause.
State Desk on 06/05/2015